So after being so discouraged as of only a week ago, I puzzled and hemmed and hawed over my problem...
On Sunday I was finally able to connect with my "Writers' Critique Group"--and BAM!
Inspiration. It's a beautiful thing.
What I learned: Those who've asked me to critique their stuff in the past know that I claim that "telling what's happening in the story instead of showing the reader and letting them experience it" (commonly known in writers' circles as "show-vs-tell") is the single most frequent trap that any writers fall in. I then proceed to show them exactly how to make it more like they're "showing" in their stories.
Turns out I'm just as guilty as the next kid.
How can you tell when an author is "telling"? The story suddenly evaporates, and you're left with a bone-dry textbook instead of a novel. When an author gets too particular in his measurements and quantities ("Two steps from the front door there is a small table with three oranges in a blue bowl; five paces from that is the sitting room with three stools, having three legs each"..... YEAH WE GET IT MOVE ON ALREADY!) or too detailed with his histories. ("Jordan--who was the son of King Frank and brother to the evil Greg--was on his way to visit his cousin George; George was not the kind of guy one would normally expect to receive a visit from any of his family, because of an incident several years back when...." Yeah... you get the picture...)
Then one of my "critics" pointed out that what I had been focusing on was too much of "telling" what happened, when "showing" the reader how it happened would work better.
Light-bulb Moment: When, as an author, you write about how the character does certain actions, this strategy automatically lends itself to revealing the character's individual personality. For example:
"Judy and Jimmy picked berries together."
Straight-up telling you what happened. Does it communicate anything about personalities, though? The activity of picking berries might look differently in the imaginations of various readers. However, if I wanted to show how the two characters performed the activity in a way that both communicated setting and established personality:
"Judy and Jimmy traveled high into the mountains. Judy started right away, crouching low over the nearest bushes and sweeping her hand through the soft green leaves to find the bright-red berries hidden within, while Jimmy took off over the hillside toward whatever flash of red caught his eye."
Automatically, Judy is presented as the quiet, industrious type, while Jimmy is now characterized as unfocused, high-energy, and independent. All this in a few easy sentences.
Once I understood this, I was finally able to re-construct the section I wanted to, in a way that would work perfectly.
So without further ado: here is an excerpt from the latest rewritten chapter of Laurel of Andar!
“Can’t catch me!”
The fair-haired Elf-maid trod lightly over the cobblestone streets, neatly slipping through the narrow space between the horse-and-buggy headed one direction and the fishmonger’s cart on the other side. Her human playmates could not make the gap, and one of them crashed into the cart of fish and received a trout in the face for his effort.
Laurel paused on the raised walkway skirting the road to survey her handiwork. It wasn’t often that she got to come out to the City Center and play, so she desired to take full advantage of it. At ten djenu, she was already much faster than these boys, who staunchly maintained they were twelve years—however long that was—but looked so much younger than Laurel herself.
“Kord!” the first boy swore, wiping fish-slime from his face. His companion dashed up from behind the carriage.
“How’d you make it so fast?” the second boy asked.
Laurel smiled at their vacant stares. “Oh, bin, that wasn’t anything; I just ran up and knew I would fit, and I did.” Her varicolored eyes—rare among other Elves, and nonexistent in those of her own race—fairly danced with excitement after the exercise. “So what’ll it be? Shall we play another game, or must I give it another go?”
The boys shared a glance. One eyed the young maid while rubbing his nose along a grubby sleeve. The other glanced around to see if any of their usual mates were watching.
“Tobin!” A woman’s harsh cry split the clamor of the city. A woman stepped up to the corner of the walkway across the lane, her eyes fixed on the boys and their Elvish playmate.
Laurel watched her totter over on tall-heeled boots, the frilly trim of her full skirt whirling around her ankles as her puffy sleeves flounced in time with her stride. She seized the hand of the boy who had fallen into the fish.
“Tobin Miller, what did I tell you about running off without telling me?” Her face was as pinched as her dress was full. She gave her son’s arm a little shake.
Tobin pulled away from his mother’s keen gaze. “Aww, Ma, we were just playin’!”
“And near getting yourself killed, too! Don’t think I didn’t see you run straight into that fish-cart, boy! Now look what you’ve done!”
“But Ma! Laurel could do it, I had to try!”
“Rubbish!” Mrs. Miller pulled her son closer to her side, eying the strange Elf-maid in the frilly green pinafore. “You know better than to make excuses—and you know what I’ve told you about playing with the Andarian children. You’re coming with me, young man!” She glared at Laurel as if blaming her for her son’s state.
Tobin’s friend watched him leave and then glanced back at Laurel. She smiled and tried to look as friendly as she could, playing with the ruffle on her pinafore like she’d seen some other girls do.
“Now look what you did,” said the other boy. “Tobin will likely be grounded for a week. Well done!”
Laurel frowned at him. “It’s not entirely my fault! I didn’t know you wouldn’t fit!” She tempered her hurt and tried to smile again. “But we can still play, can’t we?”
“Nah.” The boy shook his head and stubbed a loose cobblestone with his toe. “You’re a strange one,” he offered, and dashed away to find some other boys to play with.
Laurel scowled after him. “Not half as strange as you!” she shouted at his retreating back.
A passing Elvish couple did a double take at this young maid with the loud voice.
Laurel’s face burned; she knew it made her look different from all the other Elvish maids, but she couldn’t help it. This always happened—and more frequently as she got older. It seemed as if the children she would meet one djen would be gone the next. Grandfather—really her father’s uncle who practically raised him—had tried to explain that time for a human passed quicker than time for an Elf… but did that explain why people disappeared?
“Laurel! Laurel, di’taskenaf?”
Laurel rolled her eyes; only one person knew little enough Murindan to be forced to use Andarian outside the Quarter: her nurse, Lyberedd (*pronounced LYE-ber-eth). She would only venture out of the designated area in search of her young charge.
“Di’taskenaf, Laurel!” Lyberedd called again. Where are you, Laurel?
Part of the limited Andarian vocabulary Laurel knew was the answer to this all-important question. “Aren ness, Lyberedd! I am here,” she dutifully remained where she was until she saw the tall, gaunt form of the silver-haired apothecary appeared on the walkway, skirting the humans and dwarves as if they carried some disease fatal to Elves.
Lyberedd began to babble furiously in Andarian, taking Laurel by the hand and grimacing at the frilly pinafore. Laurel meekly walked along behind Lyberedd—but secretly, she tried to walk like Mrs. Miller, with the short, hammering step that made the skirts of her pinafore swish just so.